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Government rejects calls to reduce cervical cancer screening age

Aimee Willett
Aimee Willett has terminal cancer
Calls to lower the cervical cancer screening age have been dismissed by the government. MP Gordon Henderson asked Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about the move following the story of terminally ill mum-of-two Aimee Willett.

The 26-year-old was diagnosed with cancer last December after undergoing her first smear test at the age of 25 – when screening starts. Six months later she was told another tumour had been found and this time it was inoperable.

While she was told she would be here to enjoy this year’s festivities with her two sons Charlie, eight, and Kaleb, three, the longer-term prognosis is less clear.

Despite the heartbreak of leaving her children without a mother, she decided to speak out about her circumstances in the hope of encouraging other women to attend their cervical screenings.

MP Gordon Henderson
MP Gordon Henderson

The former Sittingbourne Community College pupil also said she would like to see the age limit reduced. Mr Henderson echoed her pleas by asking Mr Hunt if he would make it his policy to make smear tests available to all women over the age of 16 who are sexually active.

But a response from health minister Jane Ellison implied no such change is on the horizon. She said:

In 2012 The UK National Screening Committee recommended the age of first invitation for cervical screening should be age 25 on the basis there is evidence of a large number of women screened and treated with relatively little benefit below this age.

Cervical cancer in women under the age of 25 is very rare. Younger women often undergo natural and harmless changes in the cervix that screening would identify as cervical abnormalities, and in most cases these abnormalities resolve themselves without any need for treatment.

Cervical cancer is linked to a persistent infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection. Since 2008, girls aged 12 and 13 have been offered the HPV vaccination, which immunises them against the most high risk strains of HPV. This vaccine will reduce the already low rates of cervical cancer in these young women and mean they will be protected for many years.

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